This is a great resource for youth groups. There is a lot of stuff here to read through.
This Bible study helps to read the Psalm carefully and to see nature more clearly.
|1||Song or game that the group likes||Warming up||10 min|
|2||Short prayer||Inviting God into the conversation||4 min|
|3||Spread pictures/postcards of nature scenes, objects (e.g., nice stones, flowers, grasses) on the floor. Participants choose the object to which the group can relate to best.||Individual
pictures or objects that relate to nature)
|To raise awareness of nature’s diversity||10 min|
|4||Each person briefly explains why they have chosen this particular item.||Plenary, individual contribution||To give a voice to our different understandings of nature||15 min|
|5||Read Psalm 104 in two groups—female and male. Read the text individually again. Clarify any unfamiliar words and concepts.||Plenary, reading aloud, individual (needed:Bibles or printouts of the text)||To understand Psalm 104 as a song||10 min|
|6||Divide into small groups and come up with a heading for the Psalm.||Small groups||Getting closer to the meaning of the Psalm||10 min|
|7||Each group shares why they chose the heading they did.||Plenary||5 min|
|8||Discuss as a group differences and the meaning of the passage||Plenary||20 min|
|9||Song/ closing prayer||5 min|
2.1 Learning: learn about climate change and the global environmental crisis.
2.2. Learn about Theology and Ecology.
2.3 Bible study on Leviticus. The groups will work on a common biblical text. You will share your insights in a creative way with the other groups.
2.4 Analysis of the context. The questionnaire will help you to understand the environmental issues affecting your context.
Ecology and the Current Crisis
The word ecology comes from the Greek oikos, house, dwelling place, habitation. It means that on earth everything is interconnected. When somebody pours poison into a river, the people, animals and plants downstream will suffer. High levels of carbon dioxide emissions in Europe impact the global climate.
All is Connected
Many ecological problems have immediate, direct consequences at the local level, while others will only be felt in the long term. Some problems at first only affect nature, while others are problematic for human beings straightaway.
A bad sewage system will definitely damage the soil, human beings may become sick and the drinking water might become unsafe.
In a city that relies heavily on car traffic people might get sick because the air is bad and children risk being injured as they cross the street. In addition, the air is getting worse and, in the long run, the global atmosphere will be badly affected.
It is impossible in this short publication to list all the possible consequences. We can only point to some specific issues and facts. When you work with your partner groups, you will have to explore the correlation between particular problems.
What is Climate Change?
Scientists around the world have observed that the global climate has been changing at a rapid pace, especially in terms of increases in average temperatures. The first decade of the twenty-first century was the warmest on record since the beginning of the instrumental climate records in 1850. This has certain consequences:
- Sea levels rise endangering low lands and islands
- Glaciers melt and shrink, changing local weather patterns and reducing access to water
- Droughts but also heavy storms seem to have become more frequent.
Today, the vast majority of scientists are convinced that human beings contribute significantly to this change. Since the nineteenth-century industrial revolution, humanity as a whole has emitted higher levels of gases such as carbon dioxide and others than can be offset by the global climate. This has had a warming effect. Problematic in this respect is any type of burning, including the burning of wood and especially fuels. The flip side of the coin is the destruction of nature, which could actually transform gases such CO2. Therefore, global deforestation is another contributing factor to climate change.
What Can We Do About Climate Change?
There are two basic strategies, namely mitigation and adaptation.
The human contribution to climate change should be reduced. This includes the following measures:
- Switch to alternative energies that do not require burning fuels.
- Reduce travel that requires burning fuels
- Stop deforestation.
Climate change is well under way and can no longer be stopped. Therefore, people everywhere, especially vulnerable communities, need to prepare for the coming changes.
OTHER AREAS OF CONCERN
Climate change is definitely not the only concern. In terms of ecological justice there are more areas in which humans hurt nature and, ultimately, themselves. Below a short list of other issues that could be considered
- Biodiversity: more and more species are threatened by extinction.
- Water: rivers and ground water are contaminated and human beings do not have safe drinking water.
- Waste: waste is disposed in an unhealthy manner.
- Deforestation and desertification: forests are shrinking while deserts are growing.
Primer on Theology and Ecology
Creator, Creation and Creatures
In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth (cf. Gen 1:1). This is the underlying conviction of the Bible and of all Christians. In creation, God, the Creator, brings forth the created order. While the creation stories at the beginning of the Bible clearly distinguish between human beings and other parts of the created order, already here it is very clear that God, the Creator, has a relationship with the whole of creation. There is no room for the forceful oppression of nature by some creatures (i.e., human beings). This concept becomes even more pronounced later on in the Bible. According to John 1, everything is created through the Word of God (later identified with Jesus, the Christ). In Romans 8, Paul speaks of how human beings and all other creatures wait for redemption in Jesus Christ. God loves all God’s creatures.
The Triune God
Confessing the Triune God in Father, Son, and Holy Spirit means believing in a God in relationship. The Christian understanding of God does not emphasize an entity distant from all struggles of life. God is not the unmoved mover who observes the world from afar. On the contrary: in Godself, God is already the vibrant and loving relationship between Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. But that remains also true in the relationship with the whole of creation. This becomes especially clear when Christians speak about incarnation. This word means that the Son, the second person of the Trinity, becomes a human being, becomes flesh, as Martin Luther emphasizes in his theology of the cross. We do not meet God distant from creation. Quite the opposite: we encounter God when we see Jesus Christ on the cross. We encounter God when we see the suffering creation.
Trinitarian theology describes God’s interrelated gracious movement. “God is the source, the power and the goal—the spirit that enlivens the complex process of creation. God is the source of all being rather than one who intervenes from the outside” (Bloomquist, 19f).
Justice and the Ecological Crisis
The injustice towards nature is self-explanatory. In order to secure their survival—or simply to make their lives more comfortable—humans destroy parts of nature, polluting air, land, and water. Thus they seriously reduce biodiversity and extinguish entire species.There is also the second dimension: human beings are unjust toward one another. Excessive consumption on the part of some destroys nature and seriously impacts other parts of humanity. The many ecological issues, such as climate change, bear witness to this. People in the industrialized countries have been making excessive use of technologies that emit high amounts of carbon dioxide and other climate changing gases. The tragic truth is: people in the North are wasting resources that belong to all. The first to suffer are the people in the South who have never contributed to this destruction.Throughout the Bible, justice is a major concern. In Amos 5, the prophet accuses his listeners of oppressing the poor and of unjust practices and announces the Word of God: “But let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream” (Am 5:24). At the very beginning of his ministry, Jesus refers to major justice related texts from the Hebrew Bible: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor” (Lk 4:18–19).How can we get closer to discussing justice in connection with the ecological crisis? In a helpful way, Christoph Stueckelberger distinguishes between the different aspects of justice that need to be fulfilled when confronting a crisis:“Capability related justice meant that every person and institution has the duty to contribute to solving problems on the basis of their ability.”
Bible Study: Leviticus 23:3; 25:1–5
- To reflect on the meaning and purpose of the Sabbath
- To understand that the human exploitation of nature has deprived the land of its right to observe the Sabbath.
- Read Leviticus 23:3 out aloud to your teammates and reflect on it.
- Play a game, or dance, maybe with music. The group is in full movement. The leader slowly counts from 1 to 7. At 7, all movement stops and there is complete silence for a long moment. Repeat this at least once.
- Participants sit down and share what they have felt and what makes the Sabbath important to them.
- Form groups of no more than six people. Read Leviticus 25:1–5 slowly in the group.
Reflect on the Following Questions
- In what ways are we depriving the land (or other parts of nature) of its right to observe the Sabbath?
- Are there ways in which human beings suffer because the land does not receive the Sabbath’s rest?
- Why do we do that? What forces and desires are stronger than giving the land a rest?
- What arguments could we use in order to support the right of the land?
Analyzing your Context
Everything is interconnected; that is the principle of ecology. This group exercise is about learning what this means in your particular context.
To help a local activity with an eye toward the three components of sustainability: the economy, society, and the environment.
Time needed: 90 minutes or longer if required.
- Three large sheets of paper for each group
- One marking pen per participant.
Divide participants into groups of two to four.
Ask each group to identify an annual local activity (e.g., local festival, parade, or sporting event).
Design a concept map (see below) using this activity as the point in the center.
Think of ways in which the activity affects the local economy, society, and the environment. For example: A football match might help the local economy by generating work for people running the food stalls and those selling the food to them. However, in terms of environmental impact, the event produces waste that might pollute the waterways, etc.
In order to summarize the findings, prepare a chart on the remaining sheet of paper. Write the headings “Environment,” “Economy,” and “Society” across the top. Write “Local” and “Global” on the left-hand side of the page. Write down the keywords that you have come up with as in the following example:
|Local||Use of fertilizers
Use of pesticides
International trade Agreements farming
Cost of living
- What are the most problematic factors for your local community?
- What are the most problematic factors at the global level?
- Do you have any ideas as to how these can be addressed?
(Adapted from: http://www.esdtoolkit.org/community_goals/sust_lens.htm)
1. Bible Study on Colossians 1: The groups will work on a common biblical text. You will share your insights in a creative way with the other groups.
2. Pick an issue: You will review the issues that are most important in your community and pick the most pressing one. Share your insights with others and you will learn from theirs.
3. Ideas for Action: Come up with an idea for an activity, plan it, and ask others for support.
Colossians 1:12–20: The First Born Before Creation
By Kenneth Mtata
In the group, slowly read the following text aloud several times.
He [Jesus] is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation; for in him all things in heaven and on earth were created, things visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or powers—all things have been created through him and for him. He himself is before all things, and in him all things hold together. He is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, so that he might come to have first place in everything. For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him God was pleased to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, by making peace through the blood of his cross.
Respond to these questions:
- What is the text saying (what did you hear in the text)?
- What does this text say about God?
- What does the text say about creation?
- What other creation or life processes are mentioned in the text?
- How is the creation organized according to this text?
- What does or should creation serve according to the text?
- What is the hope regarding all of creation according to the text?
Read the following notes and reread Colossians 1:12–20 to answer the questions below.
The Epistle to the Colossians is said to be part of Paul’s letters, commonly called the Prison letters (Philippians, Ephesians and Philemon) although the language in Colossians is somewhat different to that Paul’s other letters. This pericope or text is a prayer honoring Christ. Similar texts honoring Christ in this way would include John 1:18 and Philippians 2:5–11. The prayer starts with the first section (vv 9–14) and focuses on the church’s spiritual welfare. Verses 15–20 praise Christ. The text begins by pointing to Jesus Christ as the “image of the invisible God” and as the “firstborn of all creation.” In this sense, in his earthly form, Jesus embodies the image of God while at the same time sharing in the state of created things. This association of the image of God with creation makes that which is created sacred. For this reason, in 1:16, all created things are subordinated to God because God created them for God’s own purpose. As a result, all of creation is finally accountable to God such that there is nothing created whose authority on other creation is final. This includes human beings. In 1:18, Jesus’ headship over the church is one example in which God’s lordship over all structures of authority over creation is demonstrated. What is interesting is that just as Jesus has partaken in being human, he has, through this association, made all creation supreme. This is another way of putting 1:15. God’s nature was alive in its “fullness” in Jesus (1:19) so that created things and beings could be restored to the divine nature (1:20).
What is your response to the following questions in light of this short explanation?
- What are some of the challenges to this hope?
- What does this text mean for you in terms of how you should relate to others and creation?
- How is the final restoration of all creation possible in this text?
The text evokes images. In groups of two, paint or draw a picture of how Christ and creation are connected.
Present the pictures to the other small groups. Discuss the meaning of the pictures and maybe your different understandings.
Pick an Issue
- Discuss the issues that you have identified in the session “analyzing”
- Choose one issue for your further attention and action
- Agree on how you would like to find out more about the issue (research).
Below some general thoughts on these three aspects:
Possible Criteria for Choosing an Issue
- Your group feels passionately about this topic
- The topic is connected to your local context
- Your partner groups have similar interests.
Now, Do Some Research
- Can you invite somebody who knows about the issue (e.g., an expert)?
- Can you interview people who are directly affected? Write down what they say.
- Divide the issue into several subtopics. Ask a member of your team to give a short presentation on one of the subtopics.
- If possible, use libraries and the Internet further to explore the issue.
Ideas for Action
After identifying the issues that you care about, it is important that you plan a specific action that addresses these. Please find below a few ideas for this.
What change do you want to bring about?
In the time you have spent together, you will have discussed in depth one or several issues. Now it is time to be clear as to you would like to see done differently in your community. What sort of changes would you like to see?
Define your goals
- Who could effect these changes? Is all the people living in the village? Or, could change already be brought about by a smaller group?
- What exactly would these people need to do differently? Please be as precise as possible.
- What would be a good time frame for this? How long would it take for this change to take effect?
On this basis, you can now define a realistic, measurable and time-bound goal for your actions.
The goal helps you to plan what you need now. How many people do you need? What kind of resources do you need and how and where can you get hold of them? A lot possible with very little or no money at all.
Some ideas for action
Your action should be based on the real desire to make a difference in your community. The change you want to bring about will probably will not be achieved after one event: You will have to convince people; for that you will have to talk to them and that will take time. However, an event as part of your action captures people’s attention and profiles your group.
(based on http://www.350.org/en/action-ideas)
Worship service: Consider preparing and leading a special worship service. Maybe you have the possibility to do so in collaboration with other congregations and other churches.
Panel discussion: If you like to change something that involves many different people, then it might be a good idea to invite some of them to joint discussions. This would also be a good opportunity to invite elected officials at the community or city level.
Biking action: Biking, like a march or a walk, is a great way of getting out and being visible in your community. It can also demonstrate the need for an improved infrastructure for alternative modes of transportation.
Clearing away trash: Cleaning part of your environment—a stream or a park for instance— would also be very effective action. You should tell others why you are doing this.
Service actions: You can actively participate in areas where strong hands are needed. But do not forget to tell others about what you are doing and why.
Art installation: Provide art supplies and invite your participants to create art—maybe something that speaks of the importance of nature in your community.
Support local food production: Have a feast, a carbon-free picnic, in the best local spot. This is an easy way to get everyone to participate and to highlight local and/or organic foods.
Sports: Organize a sports event at a place at the center of your community. Maybe you can display posters describing what you would like to change.
Music: Perhaps you know some local musicians who might want to join. Or, you could invite participants to bring instruments themselves and to create their own music.
Film festival: Film is a powerful medium and a great way of inspiring people to take action. Introduce sensitive issues, tell powerful stories of those making a difference and provide solutions to our ecological crisis in an entertaining and captivating way.
4.1 Bible study on Revelation 21—22: The groups will work on a common biblical text. You will share your insights in a creative way with the other groups.
4.2 Evaluate: Together with the other groups, share your experiences—your successes and your failures.
(Adapted from: http://lwfyouth.org/lwf-together/guidebook/)
Bible Study: Revelation 21:3–7; 22:1–5
Using an abundance of rich metaphors, these verses describe “a new creation.” We do not know what exactly is meant by new here (21:5) but, luckily, we do not need to know everything. Instead, we can concentrate on that which is more clear.
One of the symbols, the tree of life (22:2), refers to Genesis. Adam and Eve had to leave the Garden of Eden due to the Fall. Ever since, our choices and actions have led us away from paradise and the struggle between the forces of life and death continue. Revelation is addressed to people struggling with the understanding that the world as they knew it will end one day. Revelation is about hope in situations that seem hopeless.
It shows us that as a Christian there is no reason to give up—no matter how difficult the situation is. The struggle will end in the victory of Jesus Christ. As Christians, we are the body of Christ and therefore part of his struggle and victory.
Revelation is full of God’s promises. It is said that while God does not fulfill all of our wishes, God fulfills all of God’s promises. As Christians we are privileged to have hope in God. God’s promise, I will “give you a future with hope” (Jer 29:11), remains valid. The future has not been cancelled. Even if everything seems to go wrong in the world, we have God who will have the final word on earth (Job 19:25).
How to Work with a Group on the Text
1. The text is read several times (so that everyone has the possibility to read part of it out aloud). Each participant chooses one or several words (maximum one sentence), which they find the most meaningful and relevant at the moment. Everyone will share the word or words they have picked with the others. It is good to sit in a circle so that participants can easily see one another. The objective here is to get familiar with and be touched by the text.
2. Divide into small groups (3—5 people). Each person briefly explains why they have chosen these particular words.
Further questions to be discussed in the groups include:
- What do these verses tell you about God?
- What makes young people helpless in your country vis-à-vis environmental issues?
- As Christians, why do we not need to be afraid?
Many churches use the anchor as a symbol of hope. What, in your culture, are symbols, signs or colors of hope? Nowadays, what else could be used as a sign of hope?
Suggested time for the discussion is 30 minutes. The main findings should be noted and shared with the wider group.
3. Groups will come together in order to share the issues they have discussed. The objective here is to share and to learn from the perspective of others.
4. Choose from the following suggested activities those appropriate to your context. Please note, these will require time and preparation.
- Together construct an altar representing hope given by God using symbols, Bible texts, and colors.
- Plant a tree.
- Sing a song of hope. You may wish to compose the music and/or write the lyrics for a new song
5. Passing the symbol of hope: Form a circle. One person in the circle will give the next person a symbol of hope (a seed, small anchor, or something else) with words of encouragement (i.e., a quotation from the Bible). The one who received the symbol will hand it to the next person in the circle with words of encouragement. This will be continued until the symbol and words of encouragement have come full circle. The symbol can be the same throughout while the words can differ and are chosen by the one who says them. Alternatively, everyone brings their own symbol of hope to be given to the next person in the circle. The objective here is to be empowered by the hope given by God.
6. Finish with a prayer such as the following:
God almighty, Creator of heaven and earth,
You give us the food of the earth and the water of the well.
Bless every effort and every struggle that seeks to restore the harmony and beauty of your creation. We praise you, for you have not left your creation alone.
Lord Jesus Christ, who walked our ways, you have revealed the will of God and the holiness of the earth.
We thank you for your promise to be with us always. Without you we can do nothing.
Holy Spirit, giver of life and helper, you awaken our song of praise in faith and struggle.
We thank you that you are greater than any of the obstacles we face. Amen
7. Agree on who will be responsible on the sharing with the groups abroad. It is good to share the responsibility with several people and to be clear about which part of the sharing each person takes care of and when they will do it. The leader of the group will have to do the follow-up.
Evaluation and Celebration
Evaluation is not about complaining about people or being angry about something that did not come out the way you might have intended. Rather, it is about finding out what we should be thankful for to God. We will try to acknowledge what we have learned in order to remember it for the future. We will face our mistakes honestly in order not to make the same ones next time.
Group Evaluation: A Few Tips
When working with your team, it is important that everybody is heard—even those who do not generally speak up.
Stand in a circle. Use a ball or something else that you can catch easily. Everyone who has caught the ball has to say what they thought about the project.
Sit in a circle. A volunteer stands up, moves to the center, and makes a statement about the project. For example, “I really liked the program because… .” Then, all the others stand up. If they agree with the statement they move closer to the speaker; if they do not, they go further away. The facilitator asks some people why they have chosen to stand in a certain place.
The facilitator has prepared statements regarding the program. S/he explains the scale on the floor: one corner represents “I fully agree,” the opposite corner “I do not agree at all.” Then s/he reads the statements and the participants stand in the place that corresponds to whether they agree or disagree with the statement. For example, if they agree they will stand very near the “fully agree” corner. The facilitator will then ask them why they have chosen to stand in a certain place.
Do not forget to celebrate what you have achieved and also what will work out next time. Meet, have a party. Take time to thank God in prayer.